Definition: A design review is the result of a set of research methods that involves the analysis of a design. A UX expert usually does this. The goal is to identify usability issues and strengths.
Today we are going to talk about one of my favorite techniques.
A design review, or a UX expert review, is really useful in order to improve your website’s conversions and general usability.
First of all, we need to start with the problem:
Why is my website’s conversion rate so low?
How can I improve my website conversion rate and user experience?
To understand that, we need to run some research and analysis activities.
All of those are great tools, but during my entire career as a UX designer, the ones that I’ve used more, and that gave me the best results, are these two:
- Expert review: An external person, a UX expert, will review your design and give an evaluation.
- Usability test: People, with generic digital knowledge, will test your product while doing tasks and speaking aloud.
Combining these two methods you can achieve great results for your UX analysis, and the deliverables will help you to make important decisions in order to improve your website or app.
What is a design review?
A design review is a written document, created by a UX expert, which includes the results of a deep design inspection.
It is a discovery process, based on measurements; it does not rely on opinion or intuition or subjectivity, and success or failure is defined by the usability heuristics themselves.
These studies should not be conducted instead of user testing – they are complementary to user testing.
This is very important.
If done correctly, the heuristic review report is done early on in the development process, to help us develop thoughtful and original design solutions, before the product is trialed with real users.
The document contains details about the usability issues found, the severity rank, the recommendations, and some screenshots.
The UX review is based on the expertise of the designer, as well as the heuristic principles, usability guidelines, and the user interfaces best practices.
Minor issues that would be hard to observe can be identified with a design review.
During usability tests, for example, it is very difficult to discover small details such as “a color that is not included in the brand UI guidelines” or whether an icon is appropriate to its real functionality, or whether the website’s copy is appropriate and helps the user to avoid errors.
Who’s a UX expert?
As I said before, this technique requires a high expertise level.
That is very important, we can’t allow design reviews from people who do not have not to experience with UX.
The risk is that the usability of your website gets worse and you lose money.
Because of that, a UX expert should do the design review.
How to make sure that the person doing a UX profile is really an expert?
From my point of view, there are no shortcuts – a UX expert is actually a professional who has been in the UX design field for many years and has approached the entire UX process many times, as well as having demonstrated excellent skills in the following areas:
- Usability tests: The UX expert should demonstrate great knowledge about the study of real user behavior.
- UX data analysis: A UX expert has demonstrated skills in quantitative data such as website analytics data, heat maps, and recording sessions, surveys, and other similar techniques.
- Heuristic analysis: This is probably the best technique you can use for a design review; make sure that the design expert has experience using it.
- UX best practices: The level of knowledge of a designer is as important as the number of years of experience in the UX field.
Also, the design expert should be someone who was not involved with the initial design process.
In this way, you can get a fresh perspective of the design, from someone who was not part of the original internal decisions.
This is absolutely productive!
From NNG: “A successful usability career requires some theoretical knowledge, but mainly rests on brainpower and many years of experience testing and studying users. The only way to gain that experience is to start now.”
When do you need a design review?
As a designer, I should say that, ideally, the design review should be part of the design process and it should be done as a routine, in order to be sure that everything is working without issues.
However I’m very pragmatic, and I recommend this technique especially to companies who meet the following conditions:
- Companies who have never done a design review.
- Companies who want to validate new designs.
- Designers, or teams, with a lack of research experience.
- Companies who want to boost conversions but don’t really know-how.
This is one of the best assessments you can ever do.
Expert design reviews ensure that there’s nothing that you are missing when designing a digital product.
Also, there is another important thing to say.
Two weeks ago, a company hired me to do a design review, but they did it at the end of the design process.
The UI was already coded and live with AB testing.
This approach was wrong.
After my design review, they had to do a lot of rework on many design features and spent almost double the budget originally assigned to the project.
So please note that the design review should not be considered as the final milestone.
Components of a Design Review
This is what you should get from a UX expert:
- List of usability strengths: With screenshots and descriptions.
- List of usability problems: With screenshots and descriptions. The descriptions should be based on heuristic principles (really strongly recommended). There is a great article from NNG about that; here is the link. It is not only the heuristic method that can be applied to finding usability problems. UX weaknesses can also be discovered by usability tests, or from an agency’s report with best practices. NNG and Baymard Institute provides a lot.
- Severity ratings: Each usability problem should have a severity rate, in order to help the prioritization of the redesign work. I’m personally using a 5-point scale rating, i.e. Severity:1 = Low priority, Severity:5 = High priority.
- Recommendations: Giving advice about how to fix the usability problem is a good practice in a design review, but it shouldn’t be mandatory because finding a solution is something that needs more research and time (and therefore more budget as well). Sometimes, the issue is easy to solve and the solution is obvious, in this case, the UX experts should provide the recommendation. The recommendation can also be based on examples from best practices
I really recommend hiring UX experts in order to run a design review of your website.
This method is really powerful and can be executed at every stage of the design process, especially at the beginning of the process, or at the same time as the usability tests and user testing.
This method is very powerful when run at the same time as the usability tests.
- As a form of testing, heuristic evaluation is reasonably cost-effective.
- It finds both major and minor problems.
- It is quick, intuitive, and relatively simple to execute.
- It should be done in the early design stages, so major usability issues are identified and resolved early.
- It does not leverage feedback from actual users.
- Evaluators may not understand domain-specific problems.
- Not easy to find a UX expert with a strong proven experience.
- The sets of problems found may not necessarily match those found in user test studies.
- Success is wholly dependent on their skill level, expertise, and interpretive skills. And if it’s not good…
The risk of redesigning your website without an expert review is to deliver a user experience with issues, and that is not optimized.
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